Six Apart's Brad boy is Googling a new idea

A Valleywag spy reports sighting Brad Fitzpatrick, the creator of LiveJournal and outgoing Six Apart executive, at Philz Coffee in San Francisco. Fitzpatrick was there with book publisher and geek icon Tim O'Reilly and David Recordon, a former Six Apart engineer who left to join VeriSign last year. The three were working on a presentation on "social network portability." Now, that's no surprise — Fitzpatrick has been openly interested in the idea of swapping personal information between websites for a while, and he and Recordon — who we hear, by the way, may be rejoining Six Apart — helped create the OpenID standard, which helps accomplish just that. No, what makes this geek sighting fascinating is that Fitzpatrick, we hear — though neither he nor Google has confirmed this — is headed to Google. And Google has been trying to get back in the social-network game.

Socialstream, a Google-backed research project at Carnegie Mellon University, fits right in with Fitzpatrick's and Recordon's interests. For Google, the notion of linking networks together, rather than trying to swim upstream and compete with MySpace and Facebook, makes perfect sense. Rather than trying to resurrect Google's failing Orkut network, Fitzpatrick could be joining Google to help it disrupt existing social networks' business models.

That's the likeliest plan for Fitzpatrick. But what to make of Recordon's rumored return to Six Apart? It seems strange on the surface for Recordon to be going back to the company just as Fitzpatrick, his good friend, is leaving. But good friends aren't always good coworkers. Recordon, by voting with his paycheck, seems to be signaling that Six Apart is not the truly troubled party here. It's Fitzpatrick.

What we hear, very quietly, from employees at Six Apart, where Fitzpatrick plans to work his last day on Friday, is that they're not at all sad to see Fitzpatrick go. Even LiveJournal loyalists, while showering the founder with praise, make a point of saying how little Fitzpatrick has contributed to the site he created since he sold it to Six Apart.

It all makes sense. "I'm not convinced I couldn't be just as helpful to Six Apart outside of Six Apart," he wrote recently in his LiveJournal. Practically speaking, technology that opens up social networks could benefit Six Apart's second-tier communities, LiveJournal and Vox, more than it helps the dominant players.

Then there's Fitzpatrick himself, a decidedly difficult employee. Coddled at Google by its lavish benefits and engineers-rule culture, the brilliant programmer will likely do fine. Faced with grown-up responsibilities at Six Apart, he veered between retreating and lashing out. Between business trips to Russia and a two-month sabbatical, he's spent relatively little time in the office this year, and what time he did spend wasn't pleasant, from all accounts, including Fitzpatrick's own.

Six Apart faces all sorts of challenges — not least of which is managing the mess of LiveJournal with which Fitzpatrick saddled the company. And, oddly enough for a blogging company, it struggles with coming right out and talking about its problems. But Fitzpatrick's departure, laced as it was with thinly veiled insults to his coworkers, we're now concluding, says more about him than the company he worked for. Leaving Six Apart, it seems, really is the best thing he could do for the company.